A long-in-gestation and money-splurge sequel to Ridley Scott’s canonized cult cyberpunk, how rewarding it doesn’t transpire to be a letdown, which could be roundlyextolled as “mirale” in the dead-on-arrival club reserved for sequels. Maybe the oceanic 35-year gap between is a boon, time has re-defined Scott’s retro-futuristic aesthetics and the story’s humanistic philosophy, also found an able hand in Denis Villeneuve to carry on the mantle in lieu of letting Mr. Scott hogging the director chair, whose ALIEN reboot has been proved as an underwhelming undertaking.
For starters, 2049 pays an inestimable deference to its antecedent and Philip K. Dick’s spirits, by souping up its dystopian milieu with breathtaking sublimity, the bleak, gloomy, dank cityscape alternates with the orange-colored ruins of Las Vegas and a sleek/mobile futuristic interior (courtesy of Roger Deakins, what more can a cinematographer do to get that cursed Oscar?), it leaves an ineffable impact on viewers and precipitates us to ask ourselves an inconvenient question: if this is what our future looks like, is it the world we want to pass on to our progenitors? Just because none of us will live long enough to see that happens doesn’t mean it will not happen: the scenario is not so far-fetched if we think proper, we might successfully decipher the code of human reproduction in due time but meanwhile our earth’s eco-system will be permanently contaminated if we keep treating nature’s warning like water off a duck’s back and boasting about nuclear arms which is a potential threat of man-made cataclysm, then we will all be sinners in perdition.
Divagating back to the film, in 2049, three-decades have passed since the first chapter, we meet K (Gosling), an advanced, more amenable model of replicant working for LAPD to hunt down rogue, deprecated old replicants, discovers a“miracle”: roughly 30-years ago, a baby is naturally born out of the womb of a female replicant Rachael (Sean Young, reprises her role with the assistance of rejuvenating CGI magic), and many clues lead him to believe that he is that baby, and Rich Deckard (Ford), the former blade runner now lives incognito, must be his father. So K must find Deckard to confront the truth, but the minions of the powerful replicant demiurge Niander Wallace (Leto, a Pantocrator simulacrum in appearance and symbolism) are on his tails (the discovery is too groundbreaking to roust Niander’s interest), lead by his murderous sidekick Luv (a formidable lethality brought by the Dutch actressSylvia Hoeks). However, the truth is much to K’s dismay, after all, he is not the "special" one, but in the spirit of Jyn Erso in ROUGE ONE (2016), every cog should do what within his or her aptitude to contribute to the right cause, so does K, to bring Deckard to meet his long-lost child. It is reassuring that Hollywood has finally waived the“noblesse oblige” tag often affixed to its chosen heroes and given the less privileged a chance to fight their own battles.
In the sidebar, Villeneuve designs a touching romance between K and his hologram girlfriend Joi (the Cuban beauty Ana de Armas), a product of Wallance’s company and emblazoned with a Peter and the Wolf music motif, takes the sticking point of what is realness to an illuminating stratum when she becomes more sentient to the real world, topping off by a threesome act between the pair and Joi’s physical surrogate Mariette (Davis) with hallucinogenic images further blurring the line of what makes one a human, physicality or spirituality, are they both default or there is a loophole open for discussion? It is this kind of food for thought elevates the film out of the usual middlebrow entertainment territory to a cerebral think-piece orchestrated with distinguished artistic éclat and forward-looking perspective.
Under its costly price-tag, the film perversely retains its artistic integrity by taking its own pace to dispose the procedural-plot without bombarding us with adrenalin-stimulating actions to offset the occasional longueurs (those actually presented are shot with utter poise and efficiency, including the final nerve-wracking water-bound combat), on the contrary, it grants us ample time to submerge into the narrative, reflect and contemplate the situations and make up our own decisions of what we have seen so far, which signifies that it is a mismatch for those who are seeking for a no-brainer bombastic blockbuster, and if cinema is an art-form in truth, we needs more uncompromising works like this to reinstate its noble onus: beside being entertaining, art should also be able to inspire, enlighten and elevate its spectators.
Time and again Ryan Gosling makes a captivating presence out of his now trademark modus operandi of being opaque/inscrutable, it is so difficult to render in words of how amazing he is because it seems that he doesn’t do too much (a brooding receptacle of all the motions around him), but whenever he is there on the screen, our attention is gravitated by him, he can transmit empathy through a minimal output of expression or gesticulation, this is what I assume to be a rare star quality almost belongs to a distant era. Ford’sthird-act appearance is surprising considering all the hype, but it is worth the wait and the story also smartly settles the gnawing contention ofDeckard’s human-or-replicant origin. Lastly, Robin Wright does enjoy an under-radar renaissance playing strong female characters (both in small and big screens), here her Lt. Joshi is blended a stale authoritarian rigidity with some faintly detected traces of frustration and oscillation which makes her exeunt omnes rather a buzzkill, because the gate is just open, the replicant freedom movement is in the pipeline, the key to the mystery is physically pinpointed and fingers crossed, a 30-odd year gap is quite unnecessary for the next chapter.
referential points: Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER (1982, 9.2/10), Denis Villeneuve’s ARRIVAL (2016, 8.5/10), Spike Jonze’s HER (2013, 7.9/10), George Miller’s MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015, 8.1/10)